Art of Basketball
A review of the award-winning Doin’ It In The Park, and a Q+A with the filmmakers.
by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson
Basketball fans are well aware of the deserved acclaim for Doin’ It In The Park, whether through coverage in the pages of SLAM, the festival circuit, or one of its many screenings worldwide. May 1 and May 22, respectively, mark the digital and theatrical release dates of a documentary that anyone who has ever picked up a ball needs to see, own and share.
First-time filmmakers Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau crafted a movie that, while still deeply rooted in New York hoops culture, highlights fundamental and universal basketball policy that translate across oceans, languages, cultures and continents. A baller in Bangkok knows full well, that the guy who shows up in a full Los Angeles Lakers uniform with arm sleeve, is more serious about his looks than his game. While a guard in Glasgow comes to every court with the intention of not sitting all day, so they can call “Next.”
Any documentary is borne out of the passion from its creators. Garcia is practically an embodiment of basketball and the city of New York and if there were any questions regarding the Frenchman Couliau, they’re erased shortly after the opening credits. Aesthetically, the film’s use of bright cinematography and a lush visual landscape is balanced with a rich historical perspective, featuring interviews from legends Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, Pee Wee Kirkland and Kenny Anderson among others.
With Garcia’s narration, Doin’ It In The Park is much like a personalized guided tour of the Big Apple, informative yet entertaining and echoing the intense drive of those who play the game on these courts. More importantly, it’s a tour de force, showcasing the NYC experience, while saving the cab fare and for many, the embarrassment too.
On May 1, the film will be available globally for digital download on doinitinthepark.com. Starting May 22, the film will have theatrical releases in New York, London, Tempe, AZ, with more cities to come. The documentary is available on Tugg.com, where filmgoers can create and promote a screening at their local cinema. Deals are currently being worked out for iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, video on demand on cable stations as well as DVD and Blu-ray release. Nike is presenting the world tour of Doin’ It In The Park in 11 international cities and FIBA has come on board as a marketing partner for the film as well.
SLAMonline talked about the film with the two filmmakers Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau about their experience, their connection and what happens next.
SLAM: How does a guy from France end up making a documentary about pick-up basketball in New York City?
Kevin Couliau: I don’t know. I think I got really influenced by documentaries like Hoop Dreams, Soul In The Hole, books like Heaven Is A Playground or John Huet’s Soul of the Game. As I was always playing at my local playground with my friends, I was one of the few guys that was really exposed to streetball community and because I was skateboarding a lot at the time I was really evolving in an urban environment on a daily basis. In skateboarding they’re really, I like to say “avant gardists,” the way that they capture the sport and the skateboarder and the architecture, so I got a little bit influenced by that and I observed the way we document basketball and I really felt that when you saw a streetball picture in SLAM Magazine, you did not see that much artistic vision of basketball in the media. I’ve always dreamed of doing a book and documentary about basketball in New York City, so doing this with Bobbito, (he had this in mind as well for a long time) it was a perfect combination for both of us.
SLAM: At what point did you know that Kevin was going to be the guy that would execute your vision?
Bobbito Garcia: When I first met Kevin in 2004, he had never even published a photo. I actually ran that image that he shot in Bounce Magazine when I was Editor-in-Chief and it was the first time he ever got published. We have a long history and working relationship aside from our friendship. So when I approached him about being the co-director of this concept that I had, it was natural because I knew he could nail it. He had a different eye for this city than I did as a foreigner and he could play ball, so everything just came into place.
SLAM: How did you get into filmmaking?
Kevin: First I’m a photographer, so in 2004 I started doing playground photography, that’s how I met Bobbito. I went to New York City three or four months later with my girlfriend, and he drove me around to two or three playgrounds and we played basketball together. I had my old Super 8 camera and started filming New York City and we did a small video called Harlem Shuffle. It’s really short, Bobbito dribbling, a few illustration shots of New York City, this was my first video in 2009. I came for another summer with my girlfriend and I wasn’t expecting to do video and at that time I was working for K1X, they asked me to do a video with them on Red Cafe’s track, “The Heart and Soul of New York City.” I was lucky to be at tournaments that had great crowds, great vibe, so I captured that New York City vibe in the two months and did a great video. It was kind of a surprise to see the reaction on the internet with that. So this is how I came to do video.
SLAM: Why hasn’t anyone done a documentary on pick-up basketball before and what took you so long?
Bobbito: There was a documentary about pick-up basketball in Chicago, which I wasn’t aware of until recently, in the early ’90s but it never got a lot of attention, and no one had ever done a documentary about pick-up basketball in New York, which is the mecca of the sport. So basically, I had an idea to do a documentary in the ’90s, I just didn’t know how to make a film, just had a cool idea. Seeing Kevin’s work, that’s when it dawned on me that now’s the time and it worked out. ‘Cause he was unemployed at the time, he was willing to stay in New York for three months and sleep on my couch and do it not on a shoestring budget, on a no-string budget, or a no shoelaces budget.
SLAM: What’s the biggest highlight for you?
Bobbito: I would have to say the biggest highlight hasn’t happened yet. Once we’re readily available to anyone from Indonesia to Argentina, anyone who wants the film starting May 1 if they have access to the internet. I think that’s going to be the highlight that anyone, anywhere can enjoy.
SLAM: What court or experience impressed you the most?
Kevin: Rikers Island, just because it was impressive that the guys get to play two hours of basketball a week and are super talented, and can play like you and me. The court at Rikers Island is really shitty, but if it was too nice of a court it wouldn’t be jail I guess.
SLAM: Are there any anecdotes or scenes that didn’t make the movie?
Bobbito: The gameplan is the DVD and Blu-ray will have all the extras. Some of them are hilarious, some of them are telling, they’re revealing of how tough of a project it was to do. There was one playground in Brooklyn where Kevin got his camera smacked out of his face, ’cause he didn’t ask permission from this 6-11 dude, who wasn’t the most friendliest guy in the world. We’re happy with what made the film, we shot 90 hours and we have some amazing archive footage to from various sources.
SLAM: Why do you think this story is so universal?
Kevin: It touches the daily ballplayers, we just try to document a community that is always forgotten. The ballplayers on the earth, pros, NBA players, college players, high school players, they’re not the majority players, the majority players are the pick-up basketball players. Whether it’s in China, France, Italy, Switzerland or in the States. Because we’re all watching New York City as the mecca, we are all really inspired by New York City and we all try to recreate what inspires us in our community. The fact that we’re also trying to pitch the film as a movement, it touches people because they feel part of it. They forget it’s about New York City, it’s the roots, but they’re also part of that movement.
Bobbito: Because basketball is so universal. I remember playing ball one time in Thompson Park and there was one homeless person, a Wall Street banker, a priest and a woman college basketball player. Where are you going to find that mix or variety of people in any platform? In the midst of physical activity, which for me is spiritual.
The film is made in New York, but if you play pick-up, you play pick-up. Sure certain courts might play half court, three-on-three, other courts might be geared to five-on-five, everyone has their own rules and their little nuances, but the pick-up basketball community is global. We speak to the essence; it’s the common denominator. President Obama and LeBron James play pick-up basketball, so does the 4-year-old kid in his driveway, that’s pick-up basketball too.
SLAM: You said the story isn’t fully told yet?
Bobbito: It isn’t. Kevin and I were flown to London and Tokyo to screen our film presented by Nike. We played ball everywhere we went, just like we did when making the film in New York, so we were documenting this journey, so who knows? When we’re done with the Nike tour and the FIBA tour, we’ll have so much footage we can do a Doin’ It In The Park: Pick-up Basketball Worldwide.
SLAM: What do you want people to take from the film?
Bobbito: Our message is to inspire people to play outdoors, because you want to be there. Not because the coach is telling you to be there, but because you want to be there and for all of the positive things that happen out of that. That’s our motivation.
Kevin: I just want them to play ball. Once they see the film, just go out and play ball. Maybe for some of them that are interested in filmmaking, it’s not that complicated to do a film. Today you have all the basic equipment you need; even your iPhone can shoot in HD. So if you’re interested in a subject, you have to go 200 percent on your passion and start shooting it.